Yesterday the Lib Dem Federal Executive (FE) held an away day, out of which came a promising set of plans and intentions.
Previous similar FE planning sessions have also come up with good intentions that haven’t quite been matched by subsequent reality, so – as with what the leadership candidates are saying – the real test will be in the delivery. Saying the right things certainly is the right first step, however.
That’s perhaps best exemplified by the widespread support for simplifying the party’s structures and for improving transparency and accountability. The challenge there is that no one person or body is in charge of the structures and simplification requires some of complicated and opaque parts to agree to change themselves.
There is a mostly untalked about handy opportunity for that coming up but it won’t be easy, especially as it’s not just about rules. It’s also about culture – and hence the fact that my repeated efforts (and those of others) to get the federal committees producing regular meaningful reports after their main meetings has met with such spotty results. Getting agreement in principle or in a conference question and answer is one thing. Having the reports actually appear is another.
The limitations on the FE’s ability to decide are also illustrated by another area where it looks to be heading towards a sensible change of direction from the last Parliament – returning to the previous emphasis on wanting candidate selections to take place sooner rather than later. In the last Parliament there was a move away, especially at the Westminster level, from the idea of selecting early for fear of burnout amongst candidates in marginal seats. It’s debatable whether selecting later in such seats brought benefits and certainly the wider pattern of selecting Westminster candidates very late in the Parliament was not helpful for those many local parties who need more figures to catalyse action and provide leadership given the decline in their elected base. Early selections in weaker seats in this Parliament at all levels of election will help address that – but it’s not something the FE can directly decide. It can only encourage and steer.
Which is a good incentive for more transparency and reporting – as that will make it easier for others to support and assist at the crucial moments. The FE may be setting out the right objectives; to succeed it needs to secure the help of many others throughout the party.